For Maryland, the Duke game was huge.Â It's no less important for Virginia Tech.Â If they lose, their last two chances are against UNC at home and FSU on the road, and each game will see ever more pressure.Â For the Hokies, as George Allen might have said, the future is now.Â Toss in the humiliation in Durham, and things are likely to get very intense in Blacksburg.
For Duke, win or lose, here's the good side:Â this could be the second tournament-grade game, which will come in handy in a couple of weeks.
Like Gary Williams and Maryland, although without quite the same intensity, Virginia Tech has little use for Duke.Â In their first performance against Duke in the ACC, Seth Greenberg famously got tossed as Duke ripped Tech apart.
In Blacksburg later that season, Virginia Tech shocked the Devils.Â Between the two games, an intense rivalry was formed, and Virginia Tech became a thorn in Duke's side.Â Along the way, this led of course to the famous buzzer beater by Sean Dockery, Deron Washington kicking Lee Melchionni in the face, mild-mannered preacher's son DeMarcus Nelson getting T'd up, and Ken Redick getting in the face of Tech A.D. Jim Weaver after Virginia Tech fans refused to let the people behind the Duke bench leave (this was verified by other Duke fans present).
So don't expect things to be mellow.
This year has been a disappointment for Tech, with a series of close games going the other way:Â Xavier, Seton Hall, Wisconsin, Georgia out of conference, and Clemson, B.C. and FSU in the league.
Had those games gone the other way, Tech would be a Top Ten team.
There's not much you can say about the Xavier game - it was a fluke shot, like Dockery's.Â But otherwise, Tech has been erratic, which has been their pattern since they joined the ACC: they get incredibly up for the big opponents, and less so for teams farther down the standings.
Part of the reason why Tech has been so up and down is because they are not yet able to recruit on an elite level and they have gambled on some people.
On this year's team, several guys were recruited on potential and a couple were recruited late or with questionable character.Â Hank Thorns, for instance:Â a short (5-9) point out of Vegas, he was a late gamble who has generally paid off.Â Or Jeff Allen, a talented big man at 6-7 who has significant talent, but who showed up last season pudgy and then got suspended for bumping an official. A slimmed-down Allen was suspended recently for offering a one-finger salute to Maryland fans.
Terrell Bell is a talented but erratic athlete.Â Dorenzo Hudson is gifted but hasn't fully arrived.Â Chieck Diakite has talent but hasn't become a significant player.
Then there are the guys who opted out or were asked to leave.Â Gus Gilchrist bailed on his commitment after the horrific massacre in Blacksburg by a mentally ill student (can we just say how impressively Virginia Tech, as an institution, has come to terms with this? It's remarkable). Nigel Munson, who might have started this season, is at GW with Greenberg apparently feeling that Karl Hobbs tampered with his guard. Wynton Witherspoon bailed.Â Marquie Cooke was around for a year or so before he left, perhaps to Tech's relief.Â Â The NCAA forced Darrion Pellum to retake the test when they were suspicious about the initial results and he never suited up. Kendall Durant committed but never enrolled, apparently because of academics.
That's a lot of turnover and instability.Â But when you're building, sometimes you have to take chances.
And in fairness, some of their gambles have panned out.Â Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell were excellent, and Coleman Collins had some great moments.
On this year's team, A.D. Vassallo has turned into a really good player.Â And while Allen has been a pain at times, he is a power in the post.Â We really admire Hank Thorns.Â But Malcolm Delaney has emerged as their rock.
He was the only kid who was effective in Durham, scoring 12 points on 6-12 shooting (no one else topped nine), and he'll be the first guy Duke has to control.
Much of that will no doubt to fall to Elliot Williams.Â The rookie has really come on since moving into the starting lineup and has become a superb perimeter defender.
A.D. Vassallo has become one of the ACC's best offensive threats and will probably see a lot of Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson.Â Diakite is starting, but he's only getting about 17 minutes a game, and Duke will see as much of J.T. Thompson and Victor Davila as they will of Diakite.
Duke will almost certainly play without Nolan Smith, who of course suffered a concussion in the Maryland game, which means the defense takes a hit.
Lance Thomas will probably play a major role in this game, and here's who else probably will: Dave McClure.Â His versatility will let him help out in the paint, or, in Smith's absence, to help out on the perimeter.
Tech also doesn't really have a good matchup for Kyle Singler. If he's on from outside, he can personally nuke their defensive strategy.Â Allen can't play him all over the court without exposing the inside, and that goes for Davila as well.Â J.T. Thompson could end up spending time on him.Â But whoever it is, it's a mismatch.
And Gerald Henderson has proved a mismatch for everyone. Given the history of this rivalry, we won't be shocked if he takes some hard hits in this game.
Like it usually does, a game between Duke and Tech will come down to defensive intensity and a highly physical game.Â Unlike the last couple of years, Duke is more experienced and tested.Â That's really important, but so is playing at home with your postseason pretty much on the line. Despair is a big factor in March.Â Pile that on top of the disdain for Duke, and you have the ingredients for a great game.